# THE SKI BOOT FLEX INDEX INSTABILITY PROBLEM

It has been known for decades that an unbalanced moment of force or torque will be present on the outside ski when the center of pressure of the load applied to the ski by a skier is acting along the center of the transverse axis of the ski where it is offset from GRF acting along the inside edge. Ron LeMaster acknowledges the existence of an unbalanced moment of force on the ouside ski in both The Skier’s Edge and Ultimate Skiing (Edging the skis). LeMaster states in Ultimate Skiing;

The force on the snow is offset from the center of the skier’s and creates a torque on it that tries to flatten the ski.

Ron didn’t get the mechanics right. But he correctly shows the unbalanced torque acting on the ankle joint. LeMaster tries to rationalize that ice skates are easy to cut clean arcs into ice with because the blade is located under the center of the ankle. While this is correct, ice skaters and especially hockey players employ the Two Stage Heel-Forefoot Rocker to impulse load the skate for acceleration. Hockey players refer to this as kick.

In his comment to my post, OUTSIDE SKI BALANCE BASICS: STEP-BY-STEP, Robert Colborne said:

…..In the absence of this internal rotation movement, the center of pressure remains somewhere in the middle of the forefoot, which is some distance from the medial edge of the ski, where it is needed.

The load or weight of COM is transferred to distal tibia that forms the ankle joint. This is the lower aspect of the central load-bearing axis that transfers the load W from COM to the foot. What happens after that depends on the biomechanics. But the force will tend to be applied on the proximate center of the stance foot. This is a significant problem in skiing, (one that LeMaster doesn’t offer a solution for) when the ski is on edge and there is air under the body of the ski. The unbalanced torques will move up the vertical column where they will manifest at the knee against a well stabilized femur.

But this unbalanced torque creates another problem, one that is described in a paper published in 2005 by two Italian engineers (1.) that describes how this load deforms the base of the boot shell.

The Italian study found large amounts of deformation at mean loads of up to 164% body weight were measured on the outer ski during turning. The paper suggests that the ski boot flex index is really a distortion index for the boot shell. The lower the flex index, the greater the distortion potential.

For the ski-boot – sole joint the main problem is not material failure, but large amounts of local deformation that can affect the efficiency of the locking system and the stiffness of the overall system.

Values of drift angle of some degree (>2-3°) cannot be accepted, even for a small period of time, because it results in a direct decrease of the incidence of the ski with the ground.

My post GS AND KNEE INJURIES – CONNECTING THE DOTS (2.) cites studies that found that knee injuries are highest in GS in the shortest radius turns where peak transient forces are highest.

As shown in Figure 2a FR (sum of centrifugal and weight forces) and F GROUND (ground reaction force) are not acting on the same axis thus generating a moment MGR that causes a deformation of the ski-boot-sole system (Figure 2b) leading to a rotation of the ground reaction force direction. The final effect is to reduce the centripetal reaction force of the ground, causing the skier to drift to the outside of the turn (R decreases, causing the drift event).

An imperfect condition of the ski slope will emphasize this problem, leading to difficulties maintaining constant turning radius and optimal trajectory. The use of SGS ski-boot in competitions requires a particular focus on this aspect due to the larger loads that can be produced during races.

I have added a sketch showing that the moment arm M R created by the offset between the F Ground and F R is in the plane of the base of the ski where it results in an Inversion-lateral rotation torque.

The importance of sole stiffness is demonstrated with a simplified skier model…..…ski boot torsional stiffness with respect to ski longitudinal axis in particular is very important as it deeply influences the performance of the skier during turning…. A passage over a bump or a hollow may generate a sudden change in ground reaction force that may lead to a rapid change in the drift angle delta. The ski boot must be as stiff as possible going from the lower part of the boot to the ski (i.e. lower shell-joint-sole system)

As explained in the method section using the simplified model, values of some degree cannot be accepted, even for a small period of time, because the skier stability and equilibrium could be seriously compromised especially when the radius of curvature is small. A non perfect condition of the ski slope will emphasize the problem, leading to big difficulties for maintaining constant turning radius and optimal trajectory.

This excellent paper by the two Italian engineers concludes with the following statements:

Authors pushed forward the integration of experiments and modeling on ski-boots that will lead to a design environment in which the optimal compromise between stiffness and comfort can be reached.

The possibility of measuring accurately the skier kinematics on the ski slope, not addressed in the presented study, could represent a further step in the understanding of skiing dynamics and thus could provide even more insightful ideas for the ski-boot design process.

I first recognized the shell deformation, boot board instability issue in 1980, at which time I started integrating rigid structural boot boots into the bases of boot shells I prepared for racers. The improvement in ski control and balance was significant. The instability of  boot boards associated with shell/sole deformation with 2 to 3 degrees of drift at modest loads of up to 164% body weight has significant implications for footbeds.

1. AN INNOVATIVE SKI-BOOT: DESIGN, NUMERICAL SIMULATIONS AND TESTING – Stefano Corazza 􀀍 and Claudio Cobelli Department of Information Engineering – University of Padova, Italy – Published (online): 01 September 2005 – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3887325/
2. http://wp.me/p3vZhu-zx

# THE MECHANICS OF BALANCE ON THE OUTSIDE SKI: THE ROCKER/TURNTABLE EFFECT

The Two Phase Second Rocker (Heel to Ball of Foot) described in the previous post is dependent on inertia impulse loading. A good discussion of the basics of inertia and momentum is found in Inertia, Momentum, Impulse and Kinetic Energy (1.)

### Limitations of Pressure Insoles used in Skiing

A paper published on May 4, 2017 called Pressure Influence of slope steepness, foot position and turn phase on plantar pressure distribution during giant slalom alpine ski racing by Falda-Buscaiot T, Hintzy F, Rougier P, Lacouture P, Coulmy N. while noting that:

Pressure insoles are a useful measurement system to assess kinetic parameters during posture, gait or dynamic activities in field situations, since they have a minimal influence on the subject’s skill.

acknowledge limitations in pressure insoles:

However, several limitations should be pointed out. The compressive force is underestimated from 21% to 54% compared to a force platform, and this underestimation varies depending on the phase of the turn, the skier’s skill level, the pitch of the slope and the skiing mode.

It has been stated this underestimation originates from a significant part of the force actually being transferred through the ski boot’s cuff. As a result, the CoP trajectory also tends to be underestimated along both the anterior-posterior (A-P) and medial-lateral (M-L) axes compared to force platforms.

Forces transferred through the cuff of a ski boot to the ski can limit or even prevent the inertia impulse loading associated with the Two Phase Second Rocker/Turntable Effect. In addition, forces transferred through the cuff of a ski boot to the ski intercept forces that would otherwise be transferred to a supportive footbed or orthotic.

### Rocker Roll Over

In his comment to my post, OUTSIDE SKI BALANCE BASICS: STEP-BY-STEP, Robert Colborne said:

In the absence of this internal rotation movement, the center of pressure remains somewhere in the middle of the forefoot, which is some distance from the medial edge of the ski, where it is needed.

### Rock n’ Roll

To show how the Two Phase Second Rocker rocks and then rolls the inside ski onto its inside edge at ski flat during edge change, I constructed a simple simulator. The simulator is hinged so as to tip inward when the Two Phase Second Rocker shifts the center of pressure (COP) from under the heel, on the proximate center of a ski, diagonally, to the ball of the foot.

The red ball in the photo below indicates the center of gravity (COG) of the subject. When COP shifts from the proximate center to the inside edge aspect, the platform will tilt and the point of COP will drop with the COG in an over-center mechanism.

A sideways (medial) translation of the structures of the foot away from the COG will also occur as shown in the graphic below. The black lines indicate the COP center configuration of the foot. The medial translation of the foot imparts rotational inertia on the platform under the foot.

### Two Phase Second Rocker: The Movie

The video below shows the Two Phase Second Rocker.

Click on the X on the right side of the lower menu bar of the video to enter full screen.

The graphic below shows to Dual Plane Turntable Effect that initiates whole leg rotation from the pelvis applying multi-plane torque to the ski platform cantilevering reaction force acting along the running edge of the outside ski out under the body of the ski. A combination of over-center mechanics and internal (medial or into the turn) application of rotation of the leg from the pelvis, counters torques resulting from external forces.

In this post, I will discuss the role of impulse loading, in the perspective of phases of a turn cycle, in creating a platform under the body of the outside ski on which a skier can stand and balance on.

Impulse loading is crucial to the ability to establishing a platform under the body of the outside ski by cantilivering GRF, acting along the running surface of the inside edge, out under the body of the ski to create a stable platform for the skier to stand and balance on.

Maximization of dynamic stability while skating is crucial to achieve high (vertical) plantar force and impulse. (1)

Impulse in particular has been identified as an important performance parameter in sprinting sports as skating. (1)

The preceding statements apply equally to skiing.

The most important aspect of alternating single limb support locomotion is the ability to rapidly develop a stable base of support on the stance or support leg from which to initiate precise movement. Dr. Emily Splichal refers to this process as Time to Stabilization. The ability to balance on the outside ski of a turn is unquestionably the single most important aspect of skiing. Time to Stabilization, especially in GS and SL , is where races are won or lost. Here, the time in which to maximize dynamic stability on the outside foot and leg on the outside ski is in the order of 20 milliseconds (2 one-hundredths of a second); less than a rapid blink of the eye.

### The Mid Stance, Ski Stance Theory

The predominant position within the ranks of ski industry is that skiing is a mid stance activity in terms of the stance phases of the gait cycle. In the mid stance phase of the gait cycle, tension in the longitudinal arch (LA) resulting from passive tensioning of the plantar ligaments is minimal and the foot is continuing to pronate. Mid stance, as the assumed basis for ski stance, appears to have served as the rational for the assumed need to support the LA with a custom footbed or orthotic (usually in neutral STJ) and immobilize the joints of the foot with a custom fit liner. Hence, the theory that the foot functions best in skiing when its joints are immobilized. I am not aware of any studies, let alone explanations based on principles of applied science, that supports this theory. To the contrary, the available evidence suggests that immobilizing the joints of the foot, far from making it function best in skiing, has the exact opposite effect.

Wearing ski boots for a few hours can lead to a weakening of the muscles that operate within the ankle joint. This works as though one joint was excluded from the locomotive function.

………. according to Caplan et al. [3], the muscle groups that determine strength and are responsible for the function of stability in the ankle joint are very sensitive to changes caused by immobilisation. They found that immediately after immobilising the ankle joint for a week, the balance parameters were 50% lower than before the immobilisation.

The problem with the mid stance, ski stance theory, is that impulse loading cannot not occur until late stance when arch compression, fascial stiffening of the forefoot and torsional stiffening of the subtalar and knee joints, is maximal.

One factor that has been shown to reduce arch compression is arch supportive insoles and orthotics. A study done in 2016 (1.) compared the effect of half (HAI) and full insoles (FAI) on compression loading of the arch to compression loading of the arch that occured in a standardized shoe (Shoe-only). Two separate custom insoles were designed for each participant. The first insole was designed to restrict arch compression near-maximally compared to that during shod running (Full Arch Insole; FAI) and the second was designed to restrict compression by approximately 50% during stance (Half Arch Insole; HAI). The Full Insole (black) most closely resembles the type of arch support used in ski boots to support the foot. The bar graph below shows the resulting reduction compression. I have overlain the FAI bar to illustrate how it compares to Shoe Only compression. This kind of study can now be done and should be done in vivo in skiing – during actual ski maneuvers where the effect of insoles and custom fit liners on the physiologic function of the foot and lower limb as a whole can be studied and assessed.

Two pressure studies done in 1998 by a team from the University of Ottawa (2, 3), that used elite skiers as test subjects, found large variations in pressures applied to the ball of the foot observed in the data that suggested some factor, or combination of factors, was limiting the peak force and impulse in terms of the vertical force that skiers were able to apply to the sole of the boot and ski. The researchers suggested a number of potential factors but did not investigate them.

These highest pressures reach up to 30 newtons per square centimetre. Force-time histories reveal that forces of up to 3 times body weight can be attained during high performance recreational skiing (my emphasis added).

Conclusions/Discussion:

It is quite likely that the type of equipment (skis and boots) worn by the subjects had an effect on the values obtained (my emphasis added).

A factor that was not controlled during data collection was the equipment worn by the subjects. The skiers wore different boots, and used different skis, although two of them had the same brand and model of skis and boots. It still has yet to be determined if that factor had any effect on the results. A point that all the skis that the subjects used had in common is that the skis were all sharp side-cut skis (also called shaped skis). Another equipment variation which may have affected in-boot measurements, is that some subjects (n=5) wore custom designed footbeds, while the other did not (my emphasis added).

In 2013 (4), a study presented at the European Congress of Sports Science in Barcelona, Spain that used special hockey skates that I prepared to maximize peak force and impulse using principles described in my blog compared peak and impulse forces of elite skaters in the skates I prepared (NS) to peak and impulse forces seen in their own skates (OS). The skates I prepared were used as a standardized reference similar to the protocols where baseline data obtained barefoot is used to assess the effect of specific footwear on physiologic function. The bar graphs below compare NS (the skates I prepared) to OS (the subjects own skates).

The researchers noted:

Thus, the results of this study show that direct measurement of these dynamic variables may be important indicators in evaluating skating performance in ice hockey as it relates to skate design or skill development.

Peak force and impulse are associated with high peak tension in the LA created by Achilles to forefoot load transfer.

I expect that similar results would be seen in ski boots.

### The Phases of a Ski Turn Cycle

In order to appreciate the dynamics of impulse loading in skiing, I have modelled the phases of a turn cycle into 2 main phases with associated sub phases. The graphic below shows the Loading (1 – yellow) and Stance (2 – red) Phases of the outside (left) foot in a turn cycle with sub phases. The actual turn phase starts at the juncture of the traverse and from fall line and ends when the skier starts to extend the inside (right) knee. I will discuss the turn cycle in detail in a future post. My long-held theory, which was partially validated with the 1991 Birdcage studies, is that ski movements should employ the same hard-wired patterns as walking and running and that skiing should as instinctive and transparent.

Locomotion results from intricate dynamic interactions between a central program and feedback mechanisms. The central program relies fundamentally on a genetically determined spinal circuitry (central pattern generator) capable of generating the basic locomotor pattern and on various descending pathways that can trigger, stop, and steer locomotion. (5)

The feedback originates from muscles and skin afferents as well as from special senses (vision, audition, vestibular) and dynamically adapts the locomotor pattern to the requirements of the environment. (5)

Peak Force and impulse loading occurs at ski flat between edge change (red circle). This is what I refer to as the Moment of Truth. Moment, in this context, being a moment of force or torque. The manner in which the torque acts in the sequence of events surrounding edge change determines whether GRF is cantilevered under the base of the ski or whether it acts to rotate the ski (invert) it out of the turn.

In my next post, I will discuss the 2-step rocker impulse mechanism that cantilevers GRF acting along the running inside edge of the outside ski out under the body of the ski.

1. The Foot’s Arch and the Energetics of Human Locomotion: Sarah M. Stearne, Kirsty A. McDonald, Jacqueline A. Alderson, Ian North, Charles E. Oxnard & Jonas Rubenson
2. ANALYSIS OF THE DISTRIBUTION OF PRESSURES UNDER THE FEET OF ELITE ALPINE SKI INSTRUCTORS: Dany Lafontaine, M.Sc., Mario Lamontagne, Ph.D., Daniel Dupuis, M.Sc., Binta Diallo, B.Sc.. Faculty of Health Sciences1, School of Human Kinetics, Department of Cellular and Molecular Medicine, Anatomy program, University of Ottawa, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. 1998
3. ANALYSIS OF THE DISTRIBUTION OF PRESSURE UNDER THE FEET OF ELITE ALPINE SKI INSTRUCTORS: Dany Lafontaine, Mario Lamontagne, Daniel Dupuis & Binta Diallo, Laboratory for Research on the Biomechanics of Hockey, University of Ottawa, Canada – Proceedings of the XVI International Symposium on Biomechanics in Sports (1998), Konstanz, Germany, p.485.
4. A Novel Protocol for Assessing Skating Performance in Ice Hockey: Kendall M, Zanetti K, & Hoshizaki TB School of Human Kinetics, University of Ottawa. Ottawa, Canada – European College of Sports Science
5. Dynamic Sensorimotor Interactions in Locomotion: SERGE ROSSIGNOL, RE´ JEAN DUBUC, AND JEAN-PIERRE GOSSARD Centre for Research in Neurological Sciences, CIHR Group in Neurological Sciences, Department of Physiology, Universite´ de Montre´al, Montreal, Canada – 2006 the American Physiological Society

# WHY THE OPTIMAL STANCE FOR SKIING STARTS IN THE FEET

In this post, I am going to discuss why the optimal stance for skiing is dependent on the loading sequence of the new outside foot of turn, how this must start in the transition phase and why it is critical to the rocker impulse loading mechanism that engages the shovel and inside edge of the outside ski at edge change. This issue was introduced in THE MECHANICS OF BALANCE ON THE OUTSIDE SKI: TIMING OF EDGE CHANGE. The rocker impulse loading mechanism and the ability to balance on and control the outside ski is dependent on the ability to rapidly tension the biokinetic chain that stiffens the forefoot and torsionally stiffens the ankle and knee joints. This process enables top down, whole leg rotational force, into the turn, to be effectively applied to the foot and ski from the pelvis.

### A Middle Ground on Stance

Although there is much discussion in skiing on the subject of stance, it is rare for discussions to include, let alone focus on, the foot.

The red rectangle in the graphic below shows the mid stance phase in the 8 component Gait Cycle.

A common position amongst the various authorities in skiing on stance, is that it is represented by the mid stance phase of the Gait Cycle. The 8 component Gait Cycle is the universal standard for discussion and analysis of gait in human movement. During the turn phase, the sole the outside foot or stance foot is in substantially constant contact with the zeppa or boot board. Since the ski stance does not involve initial heel contact or terminal phases, it was reasonable to conclude that skiing must be a mid stance activity.

Assuming that stance skiing is a mid stance activity also meant that the joints of the foot are mobile and the foot is still pronating and dissipating the shock of impact. The fact that the foot is not yet fully tensioned in mid stance, while still pronating, appears to have led to the conclusion that the foot is unstable and in need of support. Towards this end, form fitting footbeds, liners and, more recently, form-fitted shells were introduced and soon became standard. I described what has become known as the Holy Grail of skiing; a perfect fit of the boot with the foot and leg; one that completely immobilizes the joints of the foot in my post, A CINDERELLA STORY: THE ‘MYTH’ OF THE PERFECT FIT.  This objective, precipitated the premise that forces are best applied to the ski using the shaft of the ski boot as a handle with the leg acting as a lever. In this paradigm, the foot was relegated to a useless appendage.

### The Missing Ninth Component – Late Stance

The problem with the assumption that mid stance is the defacto ski stance is that it has only recently been suggested that a critical ninth component, Late Stance, is missing from 8 components of the Gait Cycle.

Although it has been known for decades that the foot undergoes a sequential loading/tensioning process that transforms it from what has been described at initial contact as a loose sack of bones, into a rigid lever in terminal stance for propulsion, the effect of fascial tensioning on late stance has remained largely unexplored until recently when the exclusive focus on the rearfoot began to shift to the forefoot. I discuss this in BOOT-FITTING 101: THE ESSENTIALS – SHELL FIT.

As recently as 2004, Achilles/PA loading of the forefoot was poorly understood. Under Background, a 2004 study (2.) on the role of the plantar aponeurosis in transferring Achilles tendon loads to the forefoot states:

The plantar aponeurosis is known to be a major contributor to arch support, but its role in transferring Achilles tendon loads to the forefoot remains poorly understood.

The study found:

• Plantar aponeurosis forces gradually increased during stance and peaked in late stance.
• There was a good correlation between plantar aponeurosis tension and Achilles tendon force.
• The plantar aponeurosis transmits large forces between the hindfoot and forefoot during the stance phase of gait.
• The varying pattern of plantar aponeurosis force and its relationship to Achilles tendon force demonstrates the importance of analyzing the function of the plantar aponeurosis throughout the stance phase of the gait cycle rather than in a static standing position.

Changes in Muscle-tendon unit (MTU) and peak EMG increased significantly with increasing gait velocity for all muscles. This is the first in vivo evidence that the plantar intrinsic foot muscles function in parallel to the plantar aponeurosis, actively regulating the stiffness of the foot in response to the magnitude of forces encountered during locomotion. These muscles may therefore contribute to power absorption and generation at the foot, limit strain on the plantar aponeurosis and facilitate efficient foot to ground force transmission.

Transmits large forces and foot to ground force transmission means large downward forces directed at the ground or to a ski and from there to the snow.

Although I did not understand the esoteric details of fascial tensioning back in 1993, I was sufficiently aware of the relationship between peak tension in the plantar aponeurosis (PA), to be able to construct a simple model that illustrates how peak PA tension results in peak Achilles tension and how this causes the soleus muscle to go into isometric contraction, arresting further forward movement of the shank. I discuss this in detail in my series of posts on the SR Stance.

The photos below shows the simple model I made in 1993. Simple models of this nature are finding increasing use today to model what are called Anatomy Trains.

In late stance, the foot gets shorter in length and the arch gets higher and tighter as intrinsic tension transforms the foot from a mobile adapter in early stance into a rigid lever in late stance so it can apply the high force to the ground necessary for propulsion in the terminal stance phase that occurs at heel separation. The graphic below shows how the arch height h to foot length L ratio increases as the foot is getting shorter and the arch gets higher in late stance.

What has only recently being recognized is that the fascial tension that occurs in stance maximizes balance responses, neuromuscular efficiency and protection of the lower limbs through a process of  foot to core sequencing; one that stiffens the forefoot and torsionally stiffens the joints of the ankle and knee.

A 2010 study (4.) found:

Early-stance tension in the PA increased with speed, whereas maximum tension during late stance did not seem to be significantly affected by walking speed. Although, on the one hand, these results give evidence for the existence of a pre-heel-strike, speed-dependent, arch-stiffening mechanism, on the other hand they suggest that augmentation of arch height in late stance is enhanced by higher forces exerted by the intrinsic muscles on the plantar aspect of the foot when walking at faster speeds.

A 2013 study (3.) found:

Although often showing minimal activity in simple stance, the intrinsic foot muscles are more strongly recruited when additional loads are added to the participant.

A 2015 study (5.) found:

Changes in Muscle-tendon unit (MTU) and peak EMG increased significantly with increasing gait velocity for all muscles. This is the first in vivo evidence that the plantar intrinsic foot muscles function in parallel to the plantar aponeurosis, actively regulating the stiffness of the foot in response to the magnitude of forces encountered during locomotion.

These muscles may therefore contribute to power absorption and generation at the foot, limit strain on the plantar aponeurosis and facilitate efficient (vertical) foot to ground force transmission.

…….. or foot to ski to snow force transmission.

### The Optimal Ski Stance is Unique

While the optimal stance for skiing has the greatest similarity to the late phase of stance, I am not aware of any stance that has requirements similar to the ski the stance where a specific loading sequence precedes rocker impulse loading as the outside ski changes edges in the top of a turn.

As with the gait cycle, the movement pattern associated with a turn cycle also involves loading and swing phases.

There are two intertwined rocker mechanisms that impulse load the forefoot at ski flat between edge change. These rocker mechanisms rely on what the 3 components of what I refer to as the Time To Cascade which is only possible when the plantar aponeurosis is rapidly fascially tensioned.

1. Time to Fascial Tension which affects,
2. Time to Stabilization which affects
3. Time to Protection which protects the lower limbs

In my next post, we will Meet the Rockers and continue with the discussion of the mechanics of balance on the outside ski.

1. http://musculoskeletalkey.com/gait-and-gait-aids/
2. Dynamic loading of the plantar aponeurosis in walking –Erdemir A1, Hamel AJFauth ARPiazza SJSharkey NA. J Bone Joint Surg Am. 2004 Mar;86-A(3):546-52.
3. Dynamics of longitudinal arch support in relation to walking speed: contribution of the plantar aponeurosis – Paolo Caravaggi, Todd Pataky, Michael Gu¨ nther, Russell Savage and Robin Crompton – Human Anatomy and Cell Biology, School of Biomedical Sciences, University of Liverpool, Liverpool, UK – J. Anat. (2010) 217, pp254–261
4. The foot core system: a new paradigm for understanding intrinsic foot muscle function – Patrick O McKeon1Jay Hertel2Dennis Bramble3Irene Davis4 Br J Sports Med doi:10.1136/bjsports-2013-092690
5. Active regulation of longitudinal arch compression and recoil during walking and running Kelly LA, Lichtwark G, Cresswell AG – J R Soc Interface. 2015 Jan 6;12(102):20141076.

# A SKI PRO DEMONSTRATES BALANCE ON THE OUTSIDE SKI

I have long maintained that the main reason skiers and racers ascend through the ranks to the elite is because they are able to stand and balance on their outside ski using the same natural processes of balance we were born with. My theory leading up to the Birdcage studies in 1991, was that those who are able to stand and balance on their outside ski do so by creating what amounts to solid ground under their outside foot through the application of a combination of rotational forces to the ski. It is the combination of these forces that has the effect of cantilevering the ground acting along the running length of the inside edge of the outside ski, out under the base of the ski underfoot.

I have also maintained that skiers who can stand and balance on their outside ski, don’t fully understand how and why they can do this.  So they can’t explain what they do, let alone teach it. It’s also why they don’t understand why other skiers have trouble balancing on their outside ski, something they can easily do.  Thus, Ted Ligety talks about ‘creating pressure’ while Mikaela Shiffrin talks about ‘getting over it’. This may be all they need to know. But it doesn’t help those who want to know.

Yesterday, I found an excellent YouTube video demonstration of the movement and timing associated with balance on the outside ski (1) by Big White Mountain Ski Pro, Josh Foster. Foster provides a real life visual example that most skiers can relate to. His demonstration also provides a reference I can use for future posts. To date, this is the only description I have come across that accurately describes some of the main elements.

While Foster misses a key point, he gets the role of rotation of the outside leg in combination with edge angle, right.

His comments from various parts of the video appear below. The number preceding each comment is the number of seconds into the video. The link to Fosters YouTube video is at the end of the post (1).

• 0.25 – For any structure to be in balance, it starts with a really strong platform. Skiing is no different than that. I need a strong platform.
• 0.43 – So, I need a good strong platform from the snow up so that I am balanced.
• 1:04 – But here’s how I create this platform or this foundation that I want to ski on.
• 1:11 – But it comes with a turning of the lower body. Watch how I turn my leg here. That  combination of turning also puts my ski up on its edge. So when my ski is on its edge and I turn my leg, that’s what creates that solid platform or that foundation that I am looking for.
• 1:53 – I need that platform first so I can be better balanced all the way through the turn.
• 2:14 – We do it with turning the lower body and getting balanced on those edges.

The 3 frames below are from Fosters’ video.

In the first frame below, he is approaching what I refer to as the moment of truth. This is the point where the new outside ski goes flat on the snow between edge change.

In the frame below, Foster’s new outside ski is flat on the snow. Notice the quick extension he has made in the knees since his stance in the first frame. This move is the most important part of the sequence that sets up balance on the outside ski. The move, which I will describe in the next post, is an impulse heel-rocker-forefoot loading move. This move must be made just as the outside ski is going flat on the snow. If you watch carefully, you will see all good World Cup racers make this move as they approach the rise line above a gate.

The fact that Foster does not even mention this impulse move suggests that he may not even be aware he is making it. Some ski pros and coaches confuse this move as unweighting. In fact, it is the exact opposite. It is a high impulse loading move. It tensions the forefoot and loads the inside edge under the ball of the foot. The high impulse load tips the ski on edge and causes the shovel to hook into the turn. It also starts the outside leg passively rotating internally (into the turn), from the foot up. You can see the rotation starting in the Fosters left leg.

In the frame below, Foster’s leg has switched gears and is actively rotating the outside leg from the pelvis down. This is the action that cantilevers the GRF acting along the running surface of the inside edge out under the base of the ski. This is possible because the internal rotator muscles of the pelvis have different origins of insertions on the pelvis than the hamstrings. The two muscle groups are complimentary while having a synergistic effect on balance and edge control.

1. Ski Tips: Josh Foster – Strong Platform   https://www.youtube.com/shared?ci=a8b5HRupcoA

You can reduce the speed on YouTube videos to 0.5 or 0.25 from Normal using the Speed menu item shown below. Slower speeds will allow you to see the timing of Fosters extension impulse loading move.

# THE MECHANICS OF BALANCE ON THE OUTSIDE SKI

In the next series of posts, I am going to focus on the single most important, but least understood, aspect of skiing; skier balance, in particular, the ability to balance perfectly on the outside ski. Given its univerally recognized importance in the ski culture, it is both perplexing and disconcerting that little attention appears to be given to the study and analysis of the mechanics associated with balance on the outside ski.

For decades, the worlds greatest skiers, including Patrick Russell and Marc Giardelli, have stressed the importance of standing on the downhill (outside) ski. Giardelli said that once you can balance perfectly on the outside ski, everything else follows. The ability to stand on the outside ski and balance perfectly on it, implies the same mechanics of balance we engage in when we balance perfectly on one leg when we take a step to move forward in locomotion. Balancing perfectly on one leg requires a stable surface under the entire plantar aspect of the foot to provide a source of GRF. The reason why the ankle-foot complex has a triplanar joint system is so the tripod-like structure of the foot can seek stable ground. This is the classic text book definition of one-footed or monopedal balance and the standard for studies on balance performed on one foot.

The problem is that there is no ground or any form of stable GRF under the outside foot of a turn when the ski is on its inside edge other than the GRF acting along the portion of the edge in contact with the snow surface and a small portion of the base of the ski adjacent the edge. If elite skiers such as Russell and Giardelli really can stand on their outside ski and balance perfectly on it the question is where is the source of GRF coming from that acts to support weight of the body expressed on the plantar foot?

By 1990, I had an explanation in a hypothesis I had articulated. According to my hypothesis, elite skiers extend GRF acting along the portion of the inside edge of their outside ski from the snow to the base of the ski by rotating their outside leg and foot into the turn. This action causes the base of the ski on the outboard side of the inside edge to pivot upward about the portion of inside edge underfoot with sufficient force to support the weight of the body. The Birdcage studies done in 1991 were designed to find out if my hypothesis were right.

Balance on the outside ski is a Two-Step process

Having seen great skiers like Nancy Greene Raine and Toni Sailor ski with ease on pistes that would be difficult, if not impossible, for most skiers to hold an edge on, I was convinced that some skiers really could balance perfectly on their outside ski when it was on its inside edge, the same way that every skier could easily balance on one ski when the base of the ski was fully supported on a firm, stable surface.

I set out to try and figure out how this was possible. It took me about 10 years between 1980 and 1990, to formulate a hypothesis that explained the mechanics. Once I had an explanation, I understood why no one else had been able to figure it out.

Balancing on the outside ski does not adhere to the text book descriptions of single leg balance where a stable source of GRF under the plantar foot is assumed. The ability to stand on the outside ski when on its inside edge and balance perfectly on it, is a Two-Step Process. The key is that the Second Step is dependent on the First Step.  The First Step makes the Second Step possible. Without getting the First Step right within a very short window of opportunity, the Second Step is not possible.

Since my hypothesis predicted that sequence and timing is the critical, it was quite simple to prove my hypothesis with strategically placed strain gauges mounted in the Birdcage on discrete force plates positioned opposite the predicted force transfer points of the foot. The critical nature of the sequence was easily confirmed by preventing the First Step from occurring.

In my next post, I will discuss the Two Steps of the balance process and provide examples using screen shots and video clips from recent World Cup races showing the sequence in a turn where racers such as Mikaela Shiffrin make the two steps to balance on the outside ski.

# NEW STUDY: HOW SKI BOOTS AFFECT BALANCE

Thomas’ comments on the effect of the reptilian brain on stance created a perfect segue to discuss a recent paper on the effect of ski boots on skier balance.

Influence of a nine-day alpine ski training programme on the postural stability of people with different levels of skills  (April 2016, Biomedical Human Kinetics (DOI: 10.1515/bhk-2016-0004) – Michał Staniszewski, Przemysław Zybko and  Ida Wiszomirska,  Józef Piłsudski University, Warsaw, Poland.

The subject paper is an important source of information for any party with a serious interest in the mechanics, biomechanics and physics of skiing, especially academics and researchers.

The aim of the study, which recognised that balance is one of the key elements that determine the effectiveness of the ride in alpine skiing, was to determine to what extent a few days of skiing activities and the level of technical skills affected the skiers’ level of postural stability; i.e. balance. While recognizing the importance of balance in alpine skiing, the authors commented:

Publications on issues related to the biomechanics of a descent, with particular emphasis on the balance parameters, are rare in the literature on alpine skiing.

Authors of a 2014 study, Changes in the Balance Performance of Polish Recreational Skiers after Seven Days of Alpine Skiing – Beata Wojtyczek, Małgorzata Pasławska, Christian Raschner, similarly commented:

Our results were in agreement with the scarce information available regarding balance changes during or after a ski training camp.

The conclusion of the subject study is that skiing had a positive effect on postural stability. But the authors qualified this conclusion as valid only in measurement conditions that were similar to those in which this stability was practiced, i.e. in measurements involving ski boots and in the trials where the participants stood on one lower limb (monopedal stance) and mainly in the beginners. In the trials done with ski boots on both feet (bipedal stance), balance was worse than when the subjects were barefoot.

The fact that the improvment occured mainly in beginners provides a vital clue.

The restriction of mobility within the ankle joint significantly influenced the training-induced changes in the postural stability of both beginner and advanced alpine skiers.

Wearing Ski Boots Weakens Balance

Wearing ski boots for a few hours can lead to a weakening of the muscles that operate within the ankle joint. This works as though one joint was excluded from the locomotive function.

Dudek et al.  demonstrated that the stabilising function in the process of maintaining balance was significantly weakened after an injury to the ankle joint which excluded it from locomotion for some time. Also, according to Caplan et al. [3], the muscle groups that determine strength and are responsible for the function of stability in the ankle joint are very sensitive to changes caused by immobilisation. They found that immediately after immobilising the ankle joint for a week, the balance parameters were 50% lower than before the immobilisation.

In summary, it can be stated that the restriction on the  mobility within the ankle joints had a significant (detrimental) impact on the training-induced changes in postural stability while the participants were standing on two feet, in both beginner and advanced alpine skiers. However, in the trials where the participants stood on one lower limb, balance improved mainly in the beginners.

The most plausible explanation of this effect is that the biomechanics of the human limbs and the human torso depend on the cooperative actions of various groups of muscle.

A number of researchers have stated that, in addition to endurance and strength components, coordination and sensorimotor performance are of the utmost importance in alpine skiing.

The apparent paradox of the improvement seen in the balance of beginners on one limb when in ski boots is explained by the fact that the ski boot acts as a balance stabilizing frame as shown in Figure 58 show below from my US Patent No. 5,265,350.

In monopedal stance, inversion-eversion oscillation of the subtalar joint occurs about the tuberosity of the calcaneus (heel bone) as shown Figure 58B. Stabilizing the ankle joint within the confines of the rigid shell of ski boot effectively doubles the proximate width of the tuberosity of the calcaneus while the shaft acts as a steadying cage.

Clues to the Real Balance Issue, Torque

Scott et al. [22] demonstrated that during ski turns, the angular changes in the knee and hip joints can reach 50°, while in the ankle joint the oscillation is only a few degrees.

The authors of the paper, Flexural behavior of ski boots under realistic loads – The concept of an improved test method (Michael Knye*, Timo Grill, Veit Senner) commented:

Usually boots with high flex indices (stiff boots) are used by more experienced and skilled skiers whereas for beginners softer boots are recommended.

Coincidentally experienced skiers tend to keep a constant lower leg posture using boots with varying stiffness.

Isometric Contraction – The SR Stance

Three types of postural reactions to the loss of the body’s balance can be observed. The first reaction is the myotatic stretch reflex, which appears in response to changes in the position of the ankle joints, and is recorded in the triceps surae muscles. This is the earliest mechanism, which increases the activity of the muscles surrounding the joint that is subject to destabilisation. The reflex caused by a myotatic stretch causes its contraction, which then results in the stiffening of the surrounding joints as a response to the stimulus that has disturbed the balance.

The observations of the authors are confirming that experienced skiers have learned a stance that places the calf muscles in isometric contraction;  an SR Stance.

The authors of the subject paper further commented:

In this situation, a torque is created between the force of gravity and the force of the reaction of the snow on the skis, which results in a descent in a curve and a loss of balance.

There are actually 3 torques that affect balance. Two of the torques are coupled through the subtalar joint as shown by the bridged rotations of Lateral-Medial Axial Rotation/Inversion-Eversion in the graphic below.

It is the outset of force applied to the outside foot through load transfer from the pelvis offset to the ground reaction force acting along the entire length of the inside edge in contact with the snow, that creates a torque that inverts the base of the ski and the foot. The torque is translated through the subtalar joint to vertical lateral axial rotation of the tibia. While the translation is somewhat restricted by confines of the shaft of the ski boot, the moment of force is not significantly diminshed,

Both sets of torques must be balanced across the ski equipment/snow interface. The question is which torque must be balanced first? Once again, the authors of the subject paper provide a clue.

This is the earliest mechanism, which increases the activity of the muscles surrounding the joint that is subject to destabilisation.

In my next post, I will describe the mechanism by which the remaining (coupled) torque is balanced.